This is a delicate time for our nation. After an unprecedentedly dark and divisive election season, there are many critical issues we need to explore. Real and difficult truths about our social well-being, or lack thereof, are being felt deeply. During vulnerable moments like this, while we are more emotionally raw, there is increased potential to crack through some of the façade that we have collectively allowed to cloud our vision.
We have the opportunity to take this tender, wounded moment in our nation’s psyche, and delve into the real heart of the matter. Mine for genuine opportunities to grow and evolve. Look to thought leaders who are exploring the deeper well of humanity. Investigate important conversations and processes to help us come together.
There are already some important and needed conversations emerging in the post-election dialogue. But the most fundamental questions looking at how we move towards healing the underlying divisiveness in The United States, is only getting anemic attention thus far. Sure, it’s being mentioned with consistency by the mainstream media and in many homes and social circles. But we haven’t explored deeply into the opportunities of how we relate to each other as fellow citizens with more empathy and respect around divergent social and political worldviews.
The mainstream punditry and political establishment are largely focused on the strategic analysis – about political party workings, the minutiae about choices made during the election cycle that either worked or didn’t. Who did what to whom, who said what, who did or didn’t show up at the voting booth in a way that might have changed the outcome? Was one or the other candidate covered with enough depth and rigor? There are many debates looking at how to shift political strategy for future elections. With progressives, a focus on how we activate to counter-act what will likely be highly disagreeable and potentially derailing policy directions on a whole host of critical issues that we care about.
These all have their place. There are so many angles that need to be investigated. But we need to be acutely mindful not to dwell only in the shallow waters or focus only on the short-term political goals. The well of our humanity, and the cultural transformation required to build more societal healing and resilience, run very deep. The mainstream tendencies keep us primarily focused on the surface — it’s familiar and often easier than diving into the unknown or the uncomfortable. But the real work will come with essential inquiries about our relatedness and shared journey on this planet.
Our deep examination needs to look at how we begin to genuinely hear one another and understand one another better, with greater respect and empathy. And dare I say an honest openness to move beyond merely tolerating each other, into active compassion and love for one another. As Marianne Williamson, one of my mentors over the years often says, tolerance itself is not enough, for it still implies judgment. When we feel judged, directly or indirectly, it largely closes off our capacity to connect with and deeply “hear” one another in a way that brings out our common humanity and shared empathy for each other’s stories and perspectives. We can disagree, even vehemently, without demonizing and castigating each other.
So, as a society, how do we shift towards the deeper dialogues when, frankly, our political leadership, and even many of us personally are looking for a quick fix, the immediate gratification and/or comfort that can come from anger, blame and self-righteousness? (I’m talking about my own tendencies here too!) And where the media is concerned, the motivation is usually for salaciously driven, conflict drenched TV ratings. The work that it will take to collectively evolve to this more empathetic and connected space won’t be immediate, but the need is urgent. We can’t shy away from it because it is hard, or because we don’t all yet know how. We need to turn to the people and processes that can help us cultivate skills and aide our path forward. We won’t reach the promised land on day one, but every step we take brings us closer and builds more of the psychological muscle to move us towards our goals.
Luckily, there are resources and expertise out there to help.
From our schools, to criminal justice systems, to our personal relationships and political processes — there are organizations, people and methods that are already working hard to bring about a deeper change. We can tap into them, learn from them, utilize them, train ourselves.
In the short term, we can seek out the people doing work in Nonviolent Communications and other empathic communication processes and offering mediation skills. There are restorative circle dialogue processes; police/community relations work; integrated and systemic family/community support services. We can look to Desmond Tutu and South Africa’s Truth and Reconciliation Commission processes. There are many more capacities and articulate thought leaders to look towards. Put them on the airwaves more often! Titillating soundbites are not what will bring healing to our nation. Those in leadership and the media who ignore the importance of this kind of work, and of giving greater space and resources to those leading it, bear responsibility for the deterioration of our social fabric.
Through our political discourse, we can all stretch ourselves to find a little more compassion for one another and see that blame as a primary strategy is a hollow path forward.
Charles Eisenstein articulates this point quite well: (read his deeply probing post-election assessment)
“At such moments, it is a normal response to find someone to blame, as if identifying fault could restore the lost normality, and to lash out in anger. Hate and blame are convenient ways of making meaning out of a bewildering situation.”
We can look to have open and honest debates without having to demonize each other. Listen for the deeper stories that are underneath the pain and anger. Aim to see our common humanity in each other. This is the fertile ground from which arises healing and repair.
For the long-term systemic change, we need to better train more of our kids (and ourselves!) with these kinds of skills in schools, through Social and Emotional learning programs, restorative justice processes, mindfulness practices, empathy training and much more. Can you imagine millions of children entering adult society with the innate skills to better handle conflict and feel empathy? Can you imagine how they might vote? How they might themselves run for office and comport themselves in the political process? It would be a drastically improved nation in just a couple of generations.
From a policy perspective, those of us who are called to activism and social engagement can start pushing for related policy initiatives to help even more rapidly move these values forward. While activating progressive policies in the federal government may be a short-term challenge, so much of what needs to happen is at the community and state level anyway. Supporting local, on-the-ground work might not be as flashy as a presidential election, but it’s arguably even more important than a vote every four years. We can make some headway.
Much of this work is happening, right now, all over our nation and world. Many of us are calling it peacebuilding work. Setting up ways to deal with conflict and even violence in ways that are more healing and transformative. It’s happening in smaller pockets, but the expertise and wisdom are there to be tapped into. Numerous examples, from inter-personal skills to social engagement work, can be found here.
There is much that needs to be done to cultivate healing and to bring about a world that truly works for all. It will include the immediate work of protection, of engaged activism and even protest around a whole host of social issues that are critical to the lives of people right now. But it’s also important to spend time and energy working for the deeper issues that underlie so many of our social ills. Fundamentally, we must learn to hold greater respect, honor and compassion for one another so that we can find more common ground, and bridge divides. That is a much stronger foundation for a healthy robust society.
It’s time to give those at the forefront of this movement the microphone.